China not, after all, #2 in nanotechnology – Lux Research

My post on Wednesday about the reported claim that China was now #2 in nanotechnology in the world, as measured by output of nanoscience publications, brought a detailed and useful response by email from Matthew Nordan from Lux Research. He pointed out that the study that the Small Times report was based on aggregated a total of 17 metrics, of which the publications count I was referring to was only one. Taking the overall picture, China was still weak both in nanotechnology activity and in its capacity to use nanotechnology to drive economic growth. The only two measures on which it is currently strong is in the publications count that I was discussing, whose shortcomings Matthew acknowledges, and in total spending. There are some pertinent comments about the difficulty of ranking expenditure measures over on TNTlog. Nonethless, China’s capability is growing fast.

The way this story has been reported is an interesting case study in how commentators look for the story they want to see. “China rising” is a powerful narrative at the moment, and any evidence that can be beaten into a form that supports this narrative will be newsworthy. The four page summary of the complete report, which Matthew Nordan kindly forwarded to me, divides nations into Dominant (USA, Japan, Germany and South Korea) – strong both in basic research and commercialisation, Ivory Tower (UK and France), strong in basic research but weaker in commercialisation, Niche Players (Israel, Singapore and Taiwan), weaker in basic research but strong in commercialisation of selected regions. China falls into the Minor League category, weak on both measures, and so not even in the top nine of nanotech powers. The report does suggest that China is moving strongly forward but there is no suggestion that it will overtake the current leaders. Nonetheless, it’s the China story that Lux’s public relations people chose to highlight, heading their press release “CHINA: MOVING FROM LAGGARD TO POWER PLAYER IN NANOTECHNOLOGY” (PDF). The story was obligingly picked up by Small Times, who headlined their story “CHINA MOVING UP IN NANO WORLD” and picked out the two measures on which China took second place (publications and government spend at purchasing power parity). This allowed Nanodot to headline its story “Claim: China is now #2 in nanotech”, which, as we now see, wasn’t the claim at all.

3 Responses to “China not, after all, #2 in nanotechnology – Lux Research”

  1. Come on, guys. Stop splitting hairs.

    It’s the acceleration that counts, not the absolute position. The indisputable fact is that China is a driving force over the next five years in nanotechnology. With a national policy to dominate in nanotechnology as one leg of China’s drive to dominate the world economy within 25 -50 years, not to consider China as a major player in nanotech is ostrichlike.

    Whether they are second today is totally immaterial. They will be first or second within a short time, especially in basic materials and in the nanobio arenas. Look at their university nanotech graduates and tell me there isn’t a major push for domination in the momentum I see.

    And guess what… with our national deficit and trade imbalance, we’re funding their efforts in nanotech (as well as in many others areas. I live in a blue state and it was very obvious that this disaster was coming. We are digging a hole so deep right now that we may have difficulty recovering…despite the distorted GNP levels today …

  2. Zelah says:

    Mr Shalleck,

    You talk as if the Nano World is a zero sum game!

    Sure China is moving up in the world, but so is the USA! Excluding politics, China’s growth will help USA growth via cross fertilization.

    Put it this way, Japan has been now for the last 15 years the undisputed king in consumer electronics, but guess what! Japan has been a “slump” for the last 15 years as well, just now recovering!

    An amateur mathematician

  3. I usually refer to my own site ( ) to measure a country’s nanotech advancement. I count all nanotech links from a given country and compare. USA comes first, followed by Germany and Uk. I find this quite believable. China is still far from it. You might argue that the development of Internet in China would make this measure inconsistent, but if you think twice, how could country with (relative) low Internet development could expect to be high ranked in nanotech ? I see a parallel between information technologies and emerging technology development in a given country.

    I’m certain that china will move in the top 3 countries when it comes to Nanotech. But it is going to be a though fight. When you look at the vibrant nanotech academic research in USA, you realize that this country will remain number one for the many years ahead.

    Western ethics and regulation might one day give an edge to asian country though.